I’ve continued to enjoy John Pollock’s biography of William Wilberforce, who led the campaign against the slave trade.
I’ve been fascinated to read of his faith. Equally at ease with Methodists and Quakers he spent much time encouraging Anglican clergymen:
‘He saw the role of clergy as that of reconcilers, harmonizers and quieters…He did not like idle clergy… who neglected their flocks, set a bad example to the gentry and brought the name of Christ into disrepute…’
Wilberforce believed in clergymen that demonstrated practical Christianity in caring for families and their local community. Where did he find such a man?
His ideal was a parson like Francis Cunningham of Pakefield near Lowestoft, whom Wilberforce found ‘quite delightful’ when they took the seaside house for the autumn of 1816. In three years Cunningham and his wife, the sister of Elizabeth Fry, had got to know every parishioner, had strengthened education and fostered public worship…
He found such a man here in Pakefield! 200 years ago Francis Cunningham was the parson here at Pakefield Parish Church. He knew and cared for every parishioner and fostered education.
‘…before the herring fleet sailed for their annual ten weeks’ expedition, when Wilberforce went to the special service, ‘The whole was a very impressive scene. I saw tears in and falling from the eyes of faces so rough as you would have supposed unused to the melting mood.’’
Lowestoft is proud of its history – its fishing tradition and herring fleet. Cunningham, a caring village parson, was actively involved with families and local workmen, bringing a faith that moved rough fishermen to tears.
A month ago there was an open-air service on the cliff top at Pakefield. Led by the current rector, Sharon Lord, more than a hundred socially distanced people gathered for the annual ‘Blessing of the Herring’.
I think Wilberforce would have approved.